By Bob Skolnik
A divided Lyons School Board voted 4 to 2 at a special meeting last week to hire two administrators, even though most board members had not even seen the resumes of the people that they were voting to hire.
The board also voted 4 to 2 to furlough six custodians and to eliminate the positions of three central office employees in what Superintendent Kristopher Rivera described as cost-saving moves.
The new hires are Sheila Johnson, who was hired to be the school district's new business manager. She replaces Martin McConahay, who was hired as interim business manager last fall.
Meanwhile, Robert Koc was hired as the new buildings and grounds director, replacing Mark Galba, whose contract was not renewed after he has spent most of the last year on medical leave.
"I don't know anything about these people," said board member Sharon Anderson before voting against hiring both Johnson and Koc. "We were never given any type of resume. No communication from the superintendent saying we've got interviews, we're going to be bringing people to the board for approvals, nothing."
At the meeting Rivera said resumes for Johnson and Koc were inadvertently left out of the online board packets that board members access online.
Anderson and Marge Hubacek voted against the new hires and also voted against the layoffs and firings. But the board majority led by President Jorge Torres and including Vito Campanile, Olivia Quintero and Winfred Rodriguez carried the day. Shannon Johnson missed the 5 p.m. meeting because of a doctor's appointment.
Koc is apparently related to James Koc, who has ties to Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. The village president provided the political muscle to elect Torres, Campanile, Quintero, and Rodriguez last year.
James Koc filed an unsuccessful challenge to Anderson's nominating petitions when she ran for re-election to the school board in 2017. Last fall, James Koc contributed $170 to Getty's United Citizens Party and he contributed $200 to the United Citizens Party in 2014, according to state records.
In 2015, James Koc was elected to an abbreviated term on the Lyons Public Library Board, running unopposed. At a 2018 school board meeting packed with Getty supporters, his daughter harshly criticized the school board for hiring a teacher who had been charged with attempted murder.
"They're very tied to the Gettys," Anderson said of the Koc family.
Rivera said he didn't know if Robert Koc was related to James Koc.
"I've heard that. I don't know, but I've heard that a couple times," Rivera said.
Robert Koc did not respond to a telephone message and email from the Landmark asking for an interview. He will be paid an annual salary of $88,000 and will begin work at District 103 on May 11.
For the past year Koc, who has a background as a roofer, worked at an AutoZone store in Addison, where he headed the commercial department. Koc's last day at AutoZone was on April 25, a former co-worker said.
According to a resume supplied to the Landmark by District 103, Koc has also worked as serviceman and a sales manager for a roofing company and has held many other jobs, including running his own business in Wisconsin for a time.
Campanile was one of the few board members who saw Koc's resume.
"I feel comfortable that we got someone who is going come in here and increase our efficiency and do a better job," Campanile said.
While working for Niles Township High School District 219 as director of buesiness services, Johnson filed a lawsuit against a former colleague, seeking more than $100,000 in damages. She claims that she suffered significant and irreparable harm to her reputation after the former colleague falsely claimed that she called him "gay" and used derogatory names and slurs while talking about him.
Johnson claimed, according to a published report, that she was subjected to invasive questioning by District 219's administration and legal counsel. It is unclear when Johnson last worked at District 219 although her resume shows that she started there in 2018 and filed her lawsuit on Feb. 7, 2109. The case is still pending. Johnson worked as the director of business services at District 219 for perhaps a year or so.
The Landmark contacted Johnson but she declined to participate in a telephone interview. She asked that questions be submitted to her in writing.
The Landmark verbally summarized questions to her that included questions about her lawsuit and her time at District 219 and the circumstances of her leaving that job.
Johnson responded with an email outlining her qualifications, past accomplishments and included a letter of reference from a former supervisor at District 219 who no longer works at the district.
The Landmark then emailed Johnson six specific questions about her lawsuit and work history. Johnson declined to answer those questions.
The Landmark has filed a public records request about Johnson's time of employment with District 219 but had not received any information prior to press time.
Her post at District 219 was the last job listed on Johnson's resume. Johnson declined to answer about where she has worked since leaving District 219.
In her email, Johnson said she looked forward to exciting and challenging work at District 103.
"I'm not afraid of the budget shortfall at D103," Johnson said in her email. "I will review the budget in detail, ensure budgetary controls are in place and implement strategies to bring the district from financial difficulty to solvency."
Before going to District 219 in 2018, Johnson worked for three years as the director of finance and operations for Fairmont School District 89, a one-school district in Lockport. She began her career in education as an accounting coordinator for Mannheim School District 83 in Franklin Park.
According to her resume, Johnson graduated from Robert Morris University in Chicago with a degree in business administration and has MBA and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Phoenix, a for-profit university that primarily offers classes online.
Johnson received a one-year contract and will be paid an annual salary of $118,500. She began work at District 103 this week.
Longtime employees terminated
Fired on the afternoon of April 22, before the board had voted to eliminate their positions, were staff accountant Joseph Ventralla, accounts payable clerk Loretta Kray, and administrative assistant to the curriculum director Christine Miller.
Kray and Miller have both worked for District 103 for more than two decades.
"They were conscientious, dedicated, knew what they were doing, very dependable and they had been there for a long, long time," said former District 103 Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt.
Hubacek said Kray and Miller were both supportive of her campaign for the school board in 2017 when she and Johnson, running on a slate with Anderson, defeated Getty-backed candidates.
"It's payback," Hubacek said. "There's something up there."
At the special meeting last week, Rivera said the central office cuts were made and six custodians laid off because he anticipates revenue problems as a result of the steep economic decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rivera said a reduction in state aid is likely and that property tax revenue could be down.
"Due to the district's deficit spending for two years, difficult actions were necessary," Rivera told the school board.
He predicted that the district could face "massive" cuts in revenue. About 29 percent of District 103 revenues comes from the state while about 59 percent comes from local property taxes.
"We will have a tax collection issue," Rivera said.
In another money-saving move Rivera told the board that he would not recommend any raises for himself or other administrators.
The elimination of the central office positions will save the district about $214,000 in salaries alone. Rivera said the central office work done by the people who lost their jobs can be done by others, including Johnson who has an accounting background. Some accounting work may need to be outsourced.
"We feel we can get that done at a cheaper rate," Rivera said.
The custodian layoffs may be temporary. With the district shifting to remote learning until at least the fall, not all the current custodians were needed. In accordance with their union contract, the six custodians with the least seniority were laid off. Their salaries ranged from $35,000 to $72,000.
"When you don't have activity, at some point you're just cleaning to clean," Campanile said.
If more custodians are hired in the future, the laid off custodians must be offered their jobs back before new custodians are hired.
"Once the kids come back to school, we're going to need some people," Rivera said.
This story has been changed to reflect that Sheila Johnson filed a lawsuit against a former collaegue only. She did not name her former employer as a defendant.